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Cornell will offer full rides to all medical students who qualify for financial aid

Weill Cornell Medicine react to the news.
Courtesy of Weill Cornell Medicine | Credit: Studio Brooke

Medical school is expensive — according to the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), four years of medical school cost the Class of 2019 about $250,000 at public universities and $330,180 at private universities.

But for those who graduate, it can pay off big time: Doctors are more likely than any other profession to be in the top 1% of earners. Medical school students have traditionally taken on piles of student debt to finance their degrees with the understanding that their future earnings will allow them to pay off their debts. The AAMC also reports that three quarters (75%) of the med students who graduated with debt in 2018  have approximately $200,000 in student debt, and 15% also have credit card debt.

But now, several prominent medical schools have begun offering significant financial assistance to medical students, and in many cases, full rides.

Weill Cornell Medicine react to the news.
Courtesy of Weill Cornell Medicine | Credit: Studio Brooke

On Monday, Cornell University's medical school, Weill Cornell Medicine in New York City, announced that a new scholarship will eliminate medical education debt for all students who qualify for financial aid. Thanks to donations totaling $160 million from The Starr Foundation and the school's biggest benefactor, Sanford I. Weill, the medical school plans to replace student loans with scholarships that cover tuition, housing and other living expenses for qualifying current and future students.

The Ivy League school reports that historically more than 50% of Weill students have used need-based scholarships and loans to cover the school's $90,000 yearly costs. Now, these students will only receive scholarships.

"This bold initiative to eliminate medical education student debt ensures that every student who wishes to become a doctor can do so — for their betterment and for the patients they serve," said Martha E. Pollack, president of Cornell University during the scholarship's announcement. "By investing in our medical students, we impart a lasting, positive effect on the healthcare landscape across the country."

"Student debt has been in the national discussion for a long time, and we have been planning, strategizing and raising money," said Dr. Augustine M.K. Choi, the dean of Weill Cornell Medicine and provost for medical affairs at Cornell University, according to The New York Times. "It's the right time to offer debt-free medical education."

Students say the news was a huge relief. "I immediately burst into tears," Catherine Han, a second year Weill student tells The Times. "I feel like the pressure that students know was bearing down on me, and it just started to lift off. And I feel so light now because it's really life-changing."

The announcement makes Weill Cornell Medicine just the latest medical school to expand their scholarship offerings. In August of 2018, New York University (NYU) announced that the school would cover the full cost of tuition (about $55,0000) for all medical students, regardless of need, thanks to donations totaling $600 million — including a $450 million gift from Home Depot co-founder Ken Langone.

And many other medical schools offer merit-based full-ride scholarships, including the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania and the David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles.

While medical school graduates are among the wealthiest workers in American, many believe that making medical school more affordable will encourage more doctors to pursue lower-paying specialties, such as pediatrics and family medicine or to work in undeserved, low-income and rural communities that are facing doctor shortages.

"These kids, when they're done, are going to be able to pick a specialty or pick a field of medicine they want to go in, because that's where their passion is and that's where they can do the most good," Langone told CNBC.

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